Protecting your cell phone and electronics outdoors

Cell phones and other electroncis are expensive. It makes sense to protect them when you go adventuring.

It was easy to enforce early on.

When my oldest son joined his Scout troop, the leaders had a rule: no cell phones on campouts. The idea, they said, was to make sure the boys played outside, learned new skills, interacted with others and generally escaped screens and video games for the weekend.

That was pretty common thinking then. All of the organized, professionally-run summer camps I knew of had the same prohibition.

It all made sense to an old-school guy like me.

Of course, the rule was sort of like one outlawing surfing on trips to the desert. In our troop, probably fewer than 10 percent of the boys – maybe less than 5 percent – had a phone then. It was probably 50-50 even among adults.

So, the rebellion was young and weak. Victory was assured.

Flash forward a dozen years.

By the time my younger son aged out of Scouts, the no-cell-phones-rule was still in place. But virtually every boy in the troop had a phone.

And enforcing a ban on them was largely a lost cause. If the boys didn’t stash their phone in a pack, their parents did.

The result was that a typical weekend campout had more covert electronics than an FBI panel van on a stakeout.

So, while the rule never really went away, we all adapted. Like Sam Von Schamm the Hessian finally learned in “Bunker Hill Bunny,” (watch til the end) sometimes if you can’t beat ‘em, you gotta join ‘em.

Just about everyone has a cell phone these days, and just about everyone who does takes it into the woods or onto the water when they go adventuring. There are a lot of good reasons why: for making calls in emergencies, taking photos, videoing hunts, using apps to identify trees, birds, plants and wildlife, navigating and more. Many people even post to social media while still exploring.

That’s not going to change, not until some new technology even more advanced comes along.

So the question is not whether to leave the phone at home. It’s how to best protect it outdoors so that it’s available for the next trip and the one after and the one after.

There are several options.

At a bare minimum, putting your phone inside a re-sealable plastic sandwich or freezer bag protects it against the occasional splash. You can sometimes even operate the phone while it’s inside the bag, though any photos may be blurry.

A step up is the soft-sided plastic phone case. Some are made specifically for certain model phones; many are more adaptable.

All are more durable than sandwich bags, and some even come with extra features like carabiners for attaching to packs or what not.

Hard-sided cases, or watertight dry boxes, are the next option. Some are small enough to hold just the phone, if space or weight is an issue, say like when backpacking. Others are large enough to hold your phone, car keys, wallet, river or trail map and more if you’re instead boating or car camping.

Likewise, dry bags – roll-top, waterproof bags that range in size from something small enough to hold a phone to big enough to hold a sleeping bag – work the same way.

Of course, you can customize your protective gear as needed, based on your situation or activity.

You can tweak a plain dry box, for example, by gluing a layer of thin foam all around the inside of it. That can keep sensitive electronics from getting banged around.

Adding foam – like strips cut from a pool noodle — to even a soft-sided case can make it float should your phone go overboard while paddling.

The idea is to find the storage system that works for you, and then carry it, all the time. Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to even have a backup.

Because let’s face it. You’re going to take your phone on your outdoor adventures. Your children certainly are. And definitely your grandchildren, too.

That’s not terrible, just different.

It took Sam Von Schamm a while to learn that. He had to get blown up to get the message.

Adapt without the fireworks.

Bob Frye is the Everybody Adventures editor. Reach him at (412) 216-0193 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at